There are worse contracts in the NBA than Ricky Rubio’s. He is due $17.4 million next year, but he’s a serviceable point guard in a point guard-driven league. Contracts with just one year remaining get traded for all the time, but for some reason, Ricky’s feels like it will be hard to move.
Partly it’s because he’s a difficult player to plug into existing systems. His lack of shooting is problematic, and he needs to have the ball in his hands to really make an impact. But he is by all accounts an outstanding teammate and locker room presence who has clearly had a considerable impression on Anthony Edwards and a hand in his development, something that would likely continue if the Wolves were to keep him around.
Why might the Minnesota Timberwolves feel the need to move on? Two reasons: His contract is the one that breaks the camel’s back, financially, and he is a terrible fit next to D’Angelo Russell. One only has to watch the tanktastic final quarter of Sunday’s game against New Orleans to understand that the Rubio-DLo backcourt simply doesn’t gel. If you want hard stats, their point differential in over 500 possessions this year is -17.1.
Another factor is that the Wolves can’t just trade Ricky away without replacing him in the guard rotation. DLo and Jordan McLaughlin have a similarly bad point differential of -10.1 in over 300 possessions this year, and while Jaylen Nowell looked good in minutes at the one and two this year, he’s probably not the second point guard on a good team when push comes to shove.
No, unless the Wolves are trading for, signing, or drafting another point guard, perhaps Ricky is their best option if they want to win next year.
It’s unlikely DLo has signed off on coming off the bench for longer than this season, so Minnesota’s future success could rely on Ricky becoming more comfortable in a bench role and running the second unit. He is a player of habit, and with a full training camp next year, Finch and Rubio could find a balance that works.
This jumps out as especially important once you have a quick scroll through the impending affordable PG free agents for this offseason. Anyone for another round of Jeff Teague? I thought not.
No doubt Gerson Rosas will be exploring trade options for Minnesota’s favorite Spaniard. If another team was to trade for him, it feels like it would be this offseason rather than at the trade deadline. There is a short list of teams that might make sense for Ricky. By my estimate, the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and the Los Angeles Clippers are the only plausible options.
So what could those teams put on the table for Ricky? And would it be worth taking away the leader that he has been for the Wolves?
The Pacers chased Ricky in free agency a few years back, and they could have an appetite for his methodical style to place alongside Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert. Plus, they have something the Wolves might want in Myles Turner. Ricky for Turner straight-up isn’t going to get that done, but there could be interest on both sides. It doesn’t do much for the luxury tax situation in Minny, but it could be sold to ownership as a necessary transaction to upgrade the roster.
Otherwise, the Pacers have a few intriguing players but no true PG replacements. Aaron Holiday looks about ready for a new home and could be a great fit on the Wolves’ bench. Both Jeremy Lamb and Doug McDermott would be welcome injections of shooting, but then we are again talking about adding in some extras and making the money even more difficult.
In Chicago, the Bulls could do with a steady hand to help balance out the Zach LaVine experience. Perhaps my favorite fit would be to bring in Tomas Satoranski. He’s long, competitive, and scores the ball well from a lot of places on the floor — all for a cool $10 mil per. Chicago’s books are pretty bare next year, so the filler money would have to either come from a sign and trade or in the form of Ryan Arcidiacono or Troy Brown.
The Clippers could do with a PG as Rajon Rondo insurance, but they don’t seem desperate, and the fits for players that might come back aren’t great. The Wolves would probably take Luke Kennard in a heartbeat, but I’m not sold that the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team would be in love with a Rubio, Beverly, Rondo PG rotation.
Whatever happens this offseason, a point guard will have to come in if Ricky is included in an outgoing trade. The more you think about it, the more you hope the Wolves can make it work with what they’ve got.